4 Sep 2008

Bahraini WiMAX-er signs up for our Middle East speaker panel

Today I received the welcome news that MENA Telecom are to be represented at a high level on the panel of speakers at our December Middle East region telecoms conference/exhibition in Dubai. So I look forward to meeting the company's Deputy CEO Mr Laith Sadiq when we assemble the great and the good of the region's burgeoning telecoms sector.

When working out what to feature on this year's conference agenda, we got mixed reviews about the business case for WiMAX in the Middle East, with answers varying widely across markets and across the types of telecoms service provider with which we were having conversations. So it seems that there continues to be a live debate about the prospects for WiMAX technology in the region. With this in mind, we are sure that MENA Telecom will be a very useful contributor to the discussions. The Bahrain Tribune reported in July that the company was busily adding friendly user accounts during the testing phase of its new WiMAX 802.16e network. A full nationwide lauch is "on the horizon" according to the report.

Something I am not clear about is whether the company plans to enter the mobile services arena. Back in January, Informa Telecoms & Media's fortnightly research service 'Middle East and Africa Wireless Analyst' reported that the Bahraini Telecoms Regulatory Authority was considering whether to license a third mobile operator. The MEAWA story reported TWA frustration with relatively limited price and service competition. The small Gulf state's two current mobile players are the mobile arm of incumbent operator Batelco and the local subsidiary of the Zain group.

In the article, MEAWA's Matthew Reed speculated that Vodafone, which won the contest for Qatar's second mobile license might also be interested in Bahrain. Reed noted that both "both countries offer high ARPUs, have aggressive economic-development plans and are located in the strategically significant Gulf, midway between Vodafone operations in Egypt, Turkey and India."

I don't know how much signifance to attribute to the fact that one of the very first speakers to confirm his participation at our December conference was Hatem Dowidar, Vodafone's CEO of the Partner Markets area of the business. If the nature and extent of the giant global cellco's interest in the Gulf markets is unclear by December, I daresay some conference participants will ask Mr Dowidar for his opinion.

Reed also noted that Saudi Telecom, which had earlier won the another recent Gulf license contest, for the third operator in Kuwait, migth have Bahrain in its sights. However, Reed went on to note that "another option would be to remove the mobility restriction on fixed-wireless licenses, of which the TRA has issued two." The licensees? Mena Telecom and Zain. I really couldn't say how seriously this option is being considered now by the Bahrain TRA. Again, if this notion has any substance to it, I'd guess that some delegates at our event will attempt to probe MENA Telecom's Sadiq in Q&A sessions and/or offline during the many networking breaks.

Whatever happens in Bahrain between now and December, I am really pleased to have secured the participation of Mr Sadiq. Our event has rejoiced in the name GSM>3G Middle East for some years - and was known as GSM Middle East before that. We really need to think more broadly than that as network standards, services and business units converge everywhere, making the old fixed/mobile distinction fuzzier and fuzzier with each moment that passes.